Friday, July 15, 2011

Posted by Laurel Garver on Friday, July 15, 2011 12 comments
Today, I'd like to talk about a character in the Harry Potter books I've most enjoyed watching change and grow over the series: Neville Longbottom.

In Rowling's world of evocative names like Pomona Sprout and Severus Snape, Neville's is one of the most interesting. "Neville," from the French, means "new village" and Longbottom, more obviously, means one who remains lowly, at the bottom, for a long time. Put them together, and I see prophecy: the boy who stays long at the bottom will be the foundation of a new civilization.

Like Harry, Neville lost his parents traumatically during Voldemort's first uprising. Unlike Harry, Neville knows everything about it. He knows what happened to them (cruciatus curse), who did it and exactly where she is (Bellatrix Lestrange, prisoner in Azkaban). You get the sense that his extended family draws a certain pride from rehearsing the story of how Frank and Alice refused to give up information under torture and went into catatonic shock because of it. Like Harry, Neville is haunted by his parents, but his ghosts are corporeal and he gets dragged to St. Mungo's to be regularly re-haunted by them.

If anyone has reason to become dark and twisted, it's Neville. And yet, he initially reacts to it not with anger but by shutting down. He's notoriously forgetful, as if this is his regular mental pattern. He wants to just forget, to be numb. The magical world scares him--he's seen how powerfully evil it can be. He works against himself subconsciously, not really wanting to be a wizard. His great uncle Algy finally manages to trigger some magic in the poor boy by shoving him out an upper-story window, and Neville's magical instincts kick in to save him from injury. This will remain Neville's pattern for many of the books--magic only under duress--until he can get a handle on his fear and begin to grasp his own inner strength.

Greatness has been thrust upon Neville by his Gran, who fully expects him to live up to his auror parents' example. Her expectations seem to hurt more than help, and yet, having someone see something worthwhile in him does provide a foundation from which he can change.

Harry has empathy for Neville from the beginning--he sees a kid likely to be bullied the way Dudley bullied him and his protective instincts kick in. While others get fed up with Neville's bumbling, Harry continues to defend him in his weakness. In book one, Harry tells Neville, "You're worth ten of Malfoy." For Neville to hear that from a peer, one who has had as tough a beginning as himself, sets more foundation stones for Neville's storehouse of courage.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, we see a parallel of Neville in James's generation--Peter Pettigrew. Pettigrew eventually becomes a betrayer because James, unlike his son, never took any pains to encourage his hanger-on and treat him like a true friend. In Harry's friendship with Neville, we see hopeful signs that Harry will succeed where his father and the older generation failed.

It is not until Order of the Phoenix that Neville begins to come into his own, for two reasons. First, Neville's peers work hard to bolster his confidence. Second, Neville at last opens up to others about what happened to his parents. I wish the St. Mungo's scene had been included in the film, because it is so pivotal to Neville's development in the book. His parents being alive but catatonic has long been a sore point for Neville. How can heroes look so, well, embarrassing? Again, Harry's reaction to Neville's shame is affirming, and this clearly enables Neville to stop his pattern of self-sabotage.

By book seven, Neville is able to fill Harry's shoes as the head of the D.A., and endures torture from the Carrows with the same bravery as his parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom.

I have to admit, one of my very favorite parts of book seven is when Neville proves himself a true heir of Gryffindor, grasps Godric's sword and destroys the final horcrux.  Neville has come a long, long way from crawling, teary-eyed, on the floor of Hogwart's Express searching for his toad.


What are your thoughts on Neville's transformation from the butt of jokes to the heir of Gryffindor?

12 comments:

  1. I love Neville. He was an amazing character! Get all teary eyed for him!

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  2. <3 Neville! Such a fantastic character with such a fantastic name (I hadn't looked up the meaning of Neville, before - so interesting!)

    Excellent post!

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  3. Well, Laurel,

    I must congratulate you in your wonderful insights into this amazing world. The parallels you've discovered between the characters of both generations is truly spectacular.

    Enjoy the movie tomorrow. I have tickets for the six o'clock showing later today,

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  4. That was also my favorite part. I have been a fan of Neville from the very beginning and always knew he would amount to greatness. Great Article!

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  5. I love Neville too! He's one of my favorites and I can't wait to see his big moment on the big screen!

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  6. I adore Neville too - such an awesome character :)

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  7. Colene: That better not have been a movie spoiler!! :-)

    Marisa: Reading the first book, it seemed all the names were significant and that had me running to google and my name books a lot.

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  8. Michael: I am really in awe of Rowling that she created such a many-layered world full of characters that are thematically linked. It's amazing, isn't it? BTW, I believe that both Pettigrew and Neville are each at one time called "a lump of a boy."

    Emy: Early on, I predicted he'd become this amazing butt-kicking auror. But Rowling knows better. He can rise to an occasion, but prefers a quiet life after all his parents went through. And I bet he's a really nice teacher.

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  9. Natalie; I hope you're able to get to the theaters soon. I am so psyched for tomorrow!

    Jemi: Neville gets more amazing the more you learn about him. And I totally want an unabridged version of Order of the Phoenix filmed with the St. Mungo's scene in it. That would rock.

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  10. I adore Neville. I admit, I'm probably in the minority, but as I read the books I was kind of hoping that the prophecy would turn out being about Neville instead of Harry (since there were parallels, after all), because I just love the underdog. But it's meant to be the way it is. ;)

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  11. Neville is also one of my favorites. I love it that he is on the posters. That he takes charge. That he's strong and handsome and likes Luna, and he's the one to rally the troops in the end. Well done, JK, in your development of Neville. (the movie is terrific)

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  12. Shelley: I had many secret hopes for Neville, too. I wanted him to grow up to be an auror like his parents! But I think his moment of rising to the occasion in book 7 is pretty darned awesome. I can picture him being a super nice, very patient teacher.

    Mary: Harry's faith in Neville transforms him--I think that's a large part of what his character illustrates. While I also though Neville and Luna would be cool together, I believe the film scriptwriters were playing wish fulfillment. In the books, Luna marries
    fellow naturalist Rolf Scamander--a bit later in life than her peers.

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